The Basics of Belonging: Changing How We Learn

Posted on: Thu, 05/18/2023 - 13:47
By: Dr. June DePonte Sernak , Statewide Diversity Leadership Officer


May is Mental Health Awareness Month and an opportunity to boost our sense of belonging. Imagine being one of those kids who was always punished for talking in class. Chatting through nap time and having your seat moved away from “friendly” co-conspirators. After-school activities were welcomed to finally share thoughts that were bursting at the seams. Being alienated from peers causes such loss of a sense of belonging. When your authentic self was inquisitive searching for like-minded banter…..finding similarities to belong was paramount. 

This was my purpose. As a multicultural person, I struggled with belonging from a racial perspective, because when you are “mixed”, you aren’t enough of any one race to belong. We aren’t taught this as children. Our education system was designed in the 18th century based on a Prussian model to create structured obedient and punctual behavior for factory workers in the industrial revolution. I was not obedient or punctual by those standards when I was discovering my thoughts and theories.

As adults, our learning and training methods should be designed to create safe authentic spaces for collective belonging. Isolation as punishment is equal to parents not speaking to children as a lesson to be learned.  Unfortunately, this negative reinforcement is the catalyst for many ACE’s (adverse childhood experiences). These “trauma” related experiences foster into adulthood leaving us vulnerable to misinformed practices and behaviors that trigger emotional wounds.

Andragogy or Adult Learning should unite our interests and share in the knowledge of identifying why we should learn new concepts. Most adults learn experientially. The inquisitive nature that many children possess comes from learning to problem-solve. This stimulates our cognitive awareness creating a logic base for understanding. A core learning discipline in cultural competency education. 

We represent a broader range of cultures, ethnicities, economic statuses and cultural representation now more than ever. As a society, we have been divided into narratives and categories that divide us creating barriers and inequities in our personal and professional environments. These categories focus on fear of our differences instead of embracing our similarities. Cultural intelligence defines the ability in which we relate to others and interact effectively across cultures. Cultural intelligence encourages taking the interests, feelings, and cultures of other people into consideration. 

Cultural competency ensures that we acknowledge different cultures and respond appropriately especially when working styles and lifestyles differ from our personal experiences. Providing an opportunity to learn about other cultures is key in building cultural intelligence. Our Intercultural Competency Committee is an inclusive platform to share and learn the plethora of characteristics that we all possess. We accept others’ opinions and provide a safe space for conflict resolution by showcasing awareness each month of cultural history and celebration. 

We value our unique perspectives and continue to build relationships that were impacted by social separation during the pandemic. The resources provided at Center For Family Services are foundational to our mission in the community and to all of our stakeholders. Embracing our diverse demographics by taking accountability to open to learning is a huge step in the cultural continuum. Getting engaged in experiences different cultures by attending rituals, celebrations, food or music are great ways to change how we learn and discover life from a new lens.

The value in creating a lifelong learning environment offers a pathway to understanding and ultimately belonging. A sense of belonging is a protective factor for managing stress and coping during physical and mental health issues.  Depression, anxiety and suicide are common mental health conditions associated with a lack of belonging. 

Center for Family Services is on the forefront of creating an inclusive environment with our “Everyone Belongs” campaign.  Join us for our journey of lifelong learning and creating cultural competency for belonging with our shared commitment and mutual respect for our staff and stakeholders.